When most of us talk about porn today, it's about the taboo – and, often, its relation to violence, feminism, or sex addiction. It hasn't always been this way. Society-level reactions to sexually explicit images have varied widely over the course of history, from considering them humorous to fearing they would make people go insane. "The existence of pornography and the strong emotional reactions people have – either pro or con – tells us something about our culture," says James Beggan, professor of sociology at the University of Louisville. Over time pornography has been revered, reviled, and accepted, and each reaction reveals something about the society that fosters it.
It isn't until about 1860 that the word "pornography" as we know it today comes to be – as a consequence of those giant phalluses from Rome. As Italy was going through liberation, those artifacts were going to become public and there had to be some way to describe them and, in this case, condemn them. This is one small example of the actions of an era where society felt the need protect sensitive populations – now-literate women and children – from the dangers of sex.
In Britain, the first Obscene Publications Act was also adopted around this time in an attempt to outlaw obscene works. The act was heavily criticized for basing literary standards on what's moral for young readers and was difficult to enforce. "Literally, Lords got up and said what might be obscene to one person might not be obscene to another and how can we judge?" says Clarke.